With broadband, Macon County General Hospital performs like a big-city hospital in small-town Lafayette

By Patrick Smith

Editor’s note: This story is the sixth in a series of articles highlighting NCTC’s Smart Rural Community award from NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

It’s not often the credit for someone’s good health goes to an Internet connection. But for Macon County General Hospital, the broadband connection helps the staff save lives.

Unlike many rural hospitals, MCGH is equipped with fiber optic technology. The service from North Central allows the hospital to provide services usually unavailable in small towns, such as telemedicine and better digital imaging files. Also, it has the ability to send and receive large amounts of information with ease.
“It used to take 45 minutes to send big files,” says Chief Financial Officer Thomas Kidd. “Now, it’s measured in seconds. Broadband has been a huge benefit to us. We’re able to treat patients here in our community, rather than send them out of town.”

The hard work being done at MCGH has not only been recognized locally, but also nationally. The hospital was among the first six named a Stage 1 Meaningful Use Hospital by Healthcare Management Systems. This designation highlights MCGH’s ability to deal with payments and electronic records. The hospital is also recognized as a critical access hospital, a designation held by only 16 Tennessee hospitals.

Additionally, the ability for MCGH to provide higher-quality care through fiber is one of the reasons North Central was recently acknowledged as a “Smart Rural Community” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. NTCA developed the Smart Rural Community award as a way to recognize cooperatives that are promoting and using broadband networks to foster innovative economic development, education, health care and government services.

Crucial care at home

For a stroke victim, minutes matter. For a woman waiting on the results of a mammogram, minutes matter. And for a patient who has just broken a leg, minutes matter — and broadband is helping MCGH treat each of these symptoms and patients more quickly and easily.

Through a telemedicine machine, a patient connects to a doctor at a nearby hospital. The doctor performs a general assessment and recommends the best course of action.

Telemedicine is particularly useful for stroke victims. Without a broadband connection, local stroke patients would be transported to Nashville or another large city nearby. But with the first minutes after a stroke being the most crucial, telemedicine can mean the difference between a full recovery and a much rougher road for a patient.

With advancements in digital mammography and X-rays, MCGH patients are also able to receive their diagnoses more quickly. Prior to broadband, if someone broke their leg on a Friday, it would be Monday before their X-ray could be read. Now, with the high-speed connection, the X-ray is sent to an on-call radiologist at a nearby hospital and read almost immediately.

“Broadband gives you a secure feeling that we can do a lot of things here that other rural hospitals simply can’t do,” says Kidd. “It’s not necessary to drive 60 or 80 miles away for care anymore.”